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17. Certified Organic

Being a novice meditator,
I'm influenced by labels.

Today my orange is "certified organic" -- labeled clearly as such by some trigger-happy grocery store clerk not once, not twice, but three times, with, hopefully, an equally non-toxic sticky label. What a treat. I begin my breakfast preparation with great enthusiasm and expectation.

The orange itself is small, yet it feels quite heavy in my hand; dense with the promise of succulent flesh. The color of the rind isn't exactly orange, but rather a mosaic of brown and orange and yellow -- the result of not using pesticides, I decide. The rind also has a pattern of well-delineated scars -- harvest damage of some kind perhaps. I consider and reject images of feasting birds and insects, faulty harvesting machines, and grocery store clerks practicing their juggling, and decide that it really doesn't matter what the rind looks like. It is quite thick, so there'll be no damage to the fruit inside. I begin peeling it.

The thick, meaty rind and pith peel away with moderate effort, exposing a small tight orb. I remind myself that it is quality, not quantity, that counts, and that what I am about to experience is something very special – something that has been officially certified as being unlike, and presumably superior to, "non-organic" oranges. I try to pry apart the segments, but they grip tightly together in an almost seamless sphere. I persist, and eventually, with great effort, manage to tear them apart and place them on my plate. I pick up a segment and hold it to the light, trying to catch a glimpse of the promised sweet and juicy pulp within, but the membrane covering it is too thick and opaque. I have faith, however, that what lies within will be worth the wait.

I put the segment in my mouth and bite.

Odd, my teeth do not penetrate the membrane. I try again, and again, until finally my teeth reach flesh and I experience my first taste of organic orange from the one or two juice sacs that have managed to empty themselves into my mouth. "Hmm. Not bad," I think, a little disappointed, but still optimistic. I try again, and again. The membrane seems to be fighting to keep me from penetrating the segments and releasing the pulp. Clearly this orange was not going to give up its fruit to me without a struggle. I decide it is worth the effort. I tear through the tough membrane with my teeth, spitting it out onto my plate. I am determined to get enough of the pulp in my mouth to be able to taste it. When I do, I find the fruit to be sweet and juicy, but there is so little of it, and what little there is, is so difficult to get to. I continue the struggle until no more segments remain and I am left with a pile of ripped, torn, and discarded membranes larger than the orange had once been.

I notice how hungry I feel; hungry, unsatisfied, frustrated, unnourished -- disappointed. So much for "Certified Organic."

As I reach in the cupboard for some cereal, I wonder if I am anything like this orange. Here I am officially certified, triply labeled, identified as someone with expertise -- someone who supposedly has something special to offer. Have I created tough opaque layers that serve to protect me, but that make me impenetrable to others? When others come to me, do I give of myself generously, or do I cling fast to what may potentially nourish others, believing either that it will be lost to me if I give it away, or that others will discover how little I truly have to give? In my interactions with others do I make them struggle to get every morsel they need from me? Do others leave feeling unsatisfied, frustrated, unnourished – disappointed? Do I come away from the interaction feeling ripped, torn, spat out, discarded, and depleted? Does being "officially certified" really make anything or anyone special?

I look through the kitchen window to my garden. My thoughts drift to childhood, and to my family's fruit and vegetable garden. What was harvested from that garden had no official labels. The garden was tended by my father with great care and skill; crops were harvested in season and shared with others proudly. I can still remember the taste of the uncertified organically-grown fruit and vegetables that came from that garden. I wonder how long I will remember the taste of today's certified orange?